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Posted at 4:37 PM ET, 03/ 2/2011

Tom Coburn and waste

By Ezra Klein

A frustrated reader writes:

Ezra, I appreciate the posts about program duplication. I work at the National Alliance to End Homelessness, and we spend a lot of time trying to figure out how to eliminate duplication and redundancy. As you say, there are a lot of good reasons to have multiple programs. Most homeless people need a housing subsidy. Some homeless people have a mental illness. Some homeless people are kids who need to go to school. Should all of these needs be met with one program? At which department? Do you want HUD to operate an education program? Or should you just make the programs that typically provide these services to people who are not homeless do a better job of serving homeless people? These are all questions we grapple with, and I think we do a good job of identifying the best policy solutions. But here's the thing. We spent years trying reform HUD's homelessness programs to consolidate and streamline in a way that undoubtedly improves efficiency and reduces waste. It had broad support and consensus (cosponsored by Senators Jack Reed and Kit Bond and supported by the Bush Administration). And what was one of the biggest hurdles? A hold by Senator Coburn.

I'm sure Coburn had his reasons for the hold (I'm not sure I'd think them good reasons, but still). Nevertheless, I think this goes back to the warning that the people who should be leading the charge to identify governmental inefficiency are the people whose main interest is making the government work better. My impression of Coburn is that his main interest is making the government smaller, which is different.

By Ezra Klein  | March 2, 2011; 4:37 PM ET
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Do we need a federal program to combat homelessness?

Posted by: ab_13 | March 2, 2011 4:49 PM | Report abuse

"As you say, there are a lot of good reasons to have multiple programs. Most homeless people need a housing subsidy. Some homeless people have a mental illness. Some homeless people are kids who need to go to school. Should all of these needs be met with one program"

There really isn't that great a variety in the REASONS people become homeless. Mental illness and substance abuse cover most of the population with a pretty strong blanket. Even those single mothers with young children usually began the downfall with one or the other. There really aren't a whole lot of down on their luck accountants out there.

So you can't really adrdress the homeless problem without addressing the approach to substance abuse and mental illness, other wise, you're running in place.

Posted by: johnmarshall5446 | March 2, 2011 4:55 PM | Report abuse

It's not news that republicans are against making government more efficient. Republicans just want smaller government but most importantly they want a govenrment that helps less people because that is against their ideology.
For example welfare reform in 1996. Welfare reform which decentralized welfare, and added requirements to welfare receipts cause administration costs to skyrocket by around half a thousand percent.
In fact if we were to repeal welfare reform and replaced it with what welfare used to be then we could increase the number of people on welfare by 100% without increasing welfare costs by one cent.

Posted by: mynameisblehbleh | March 2, 2011 5:13 PM | Report abuse

Preventing nominations does nothing to make government smaller. Most of the spending he places holds on will pass anyway...any of his holds can be undone with 60 votes.

Coburn simply wants maximum chaos and disfunction, and wants to watch the world burn.

Posted by: quarkgluonsoup | March 2, 2011 5:14 PM | Report abuse

It may be true that some bureaucrat somewhere wants to make government "more efficient" but gosh it sure seems that there are aa lot more who realize that....multiple programs=multiple bureaucracies=jobs in the bureaucracy for the wives and children of bureaucrats...
I bet that back in the, was it the eighties or nineties, when someone did a study and found that only about a nickel of each welfare dollar actually successfully made it through the New York "welfare bureaucracy" out into a position in which to actually help an actual welfare recipient, that 98 or 99% of the welfare bureaucracy workers would have solemnly intoned that they just wanted to "make the system more efficient" and that any atempt to rush efficiency would just "screw everything up, cost everybody more money and screw over the welfare recipients"
I don't think that the folks inside the bureaucracy even realize how crazy the way they do things looks...
I remember some years ago when I had to get some old tax returns because I was eligible to redo them and get some money refunded.... I had to wait down the hall in a waiting room for the government employee to get me and walk me back to her cubicle... it was so weird watching her walk, it was as if she were in an alternate slow motion universe.. it was laughable.
Once I went into a "planning office" where builders were waiting to get their plans approved by snot nosed city workers who had all manner of little "rules" posted all over the front of the reception desk, where to stand, turn off your cell phone in the waiting room, don't approach before yopu are invited forward... etc. etc. etc.
I thought it was odd until I realized the pace of the office and the amount of genuflecting that these virtual children behind the desk were requiring of these full grown men in front of the desk in order to smoothly move their projects through the permitting phase.
The office unlocked it's doors at 8 and the waiting room became crowded with busy men trapped in the alternate universe of the "planning office" the "planners" wouldn't see anybody until 8:30 so there was an odd 30 minutes with the silenced, respectful businessmen watch from the "no food, drink or cell phones waiting room as the god like young city planers ate the sugar pops, drank their coffee and chatted about their social whirls...
I'm sure that, if you asked any of those planners what their chief goal was they would almost automatically blurt out ... "making the planning department more efficient!"
I have bought and sold a lot of houses and many times I have gone down to the county to check on tax records... I remember one woman who sat at the reception desk looking right at me, with the phone pressed against her ear, for at least a minute, maybe two, talking about her weekend... and then she leisurely said, "well I have to get off the phone, someone just stepped in". She knew that there was nothing I could do. I was just a taxpayer not a real person.

Posted by: Cheesy1959 | March 2, 2011 6:17 PM | Report abuse

Add this to the always growing list of why the world would be a better place with filibuster reform.

Posted by: will12 | March 2, 2011 7:13 PM | Report abuse

"Do we need a federal program to combat homelessness?"

Don't panic, ab13, your federal tax dollars are not at risk of helping to resolve homelessness. The National Alliance to End Homelessness is a private, nonprofit, and non-partisan organization.

Posted by: Patrick_M | March 2, 2011 10:39 PM | Report abuse

Cheesy , you can make complaints , you are not powerless.
I renewed my tags on 2 vehicles today in 5 minutes by phone , it was painless. My sister had several interactions with Soc Sec Admin and she said each one was marked with efficiency , politeness and competence . Some people just hate regulations and regulators but it is necessary .

Posted by: sligowoman | March 3, 2011 6:51 AM | Report abuse

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